Gordon Smith

Turnbull’s equality push merely a marriage of convenience

Even if marriage equality is decided by a free vote, we should not celebrate. Equality for the sake of power is not the same as equality for equality’s sake.

 

 

Malcolm Turnbull supports marriage equality. We know this, because he often tells us so. He supports marriage equality in the same way he supports taking action on climate change, or indigenous recognition, or moving towards a republic. That is, of course, when it suits him best.

Say, the kind of out loud and proud public support for popular issues one needs to show, in order to secure the nation’s top job.

Or the same kind of support you can pull out of your back pocket when your predecessor is getting a bit too cosy with his pals in the media, just to say that at least some how you’re different.

But then, if, at the end of the day, the wholehearted support you pledge ends the moment you step foot in the Lodge, can you really call yourself a supporter at all?

That is the question for one Malcolm Turnbull, as he heads into a self-described ‘emergency meeting’ with his increasingly rag-tag crew when the clock strikes four this afternoon. The Liberal Party – by this point more an argumentative rabble than any real political force – is set to batten down the hatches, and at long last tackle the big gay issue head on.

Or at least, to talk about how they’d prefer to tackle the big gay issue.

All eyes are on five – admittedly brave – ‘rebel’ MPs, who released their draft of what marriage equality might look like in Australia. Warm and fuzzy as you may be, our nation may yet throw another pie in the face of quite literally every single other English speaking country in the world – and all signs point to this being the outcome.

If it wasn’t the not-so-veiled threats being made by Liberal Party heavyweights towards the MPs, wagging dis-endorsement in their faces as if to say the pursuit of civil rights is something to be ashamed of, making you feel like all this momentum is for nothing. It seems that way, as all signs point towards plebiscite 2.0 being the most likely outcome.

Bigger, more outdated, and even less binding than its failed compadre, the postal plebiscite not only flies in the face of human decency, it may also fly in the face of the Constitution.

The compassionate souls behind the zombified measure – who, might I add, will not be the people having to justify the legitimacy of their relationships to the nation at large – believe it to be a good compromise.

A compromise between just changing the Marriage Act as they would any other law, and the steaming pile of right wing can-kicking that Turnbull inherited from his onion eating forbearer. The same steaming pile that is treated as a sacred bond between the Liberal Party and voters, an electoral promise to be fulfilled at all cost.

Never mind of course that the plebiscite is being pushed by the world’s most empathetic man, Peter Dutton, is an act not of a government seeking to resolve a question of inequality in the eyes of the law, but of an administration who hopes to delay any real action until they are well and truly out of power.

And out of power is exactly where this self-serving government should be.

The plebiscite – postal or otherwise – is by definition non-binding. Regardless of how the Australian public votes in this expensive act of hate speech, our all knowing Ministers are free to vote however they may choose.

 

Do we break open the champagne, and shout to the rooftops of how, at long last, Australia, like almost every single one of its closest allies, recognises that love is love? Well, yes, but mainly no. The crux is the intention.

 

You could say that they would, in fact, be voting according to their conscience. But that, of course, would be ridiculous.

But, what if, and if is the key word here, the unthinkable happens, and our rebel MPs succeed in pushing a government full of competing extremes into a free vote, without the expensive farce of shirking the job off to the voters?

Do we break open the champagne, and shout to the rooftops of how, at long last, Australia, like almost every single one of its closest allies, recognises that love is love?

Well, yes, but mainly no.

The crux is the intention.

While it is without a doubt that at least these Members truly do believe in equality for all under Australian law, their parliamentary pals are less worthy of admiration.

Speaking to Insiders this yesterday, Senator Dean Smith spruiked the benefits of his proposed bill and spoke of it being the best possible option for marriage equality the Liberal Party could ask for.

 

Why? Well, because it’s chocked full of all the little asterisks and protection of religious rights to discriminate needed to pull the overbearing weight of the conservative rump onboard – at least enough to get a vote going.

Granted, this is a necessary caveat, and knowing the fringe religious extremists and weirdos who hide behind their choice of misinterpreted scripture while spewing condemnation upon the LGBTI community, they would continue their hate regardless of the legality.

For their comfort, most of the community probably would not seek a religious ceremony anyhow. We know when we’re not wanted.

Indeed, this is probably something a Labor-made bill would include too – although probably not to such a detailed extent.

But therein lies the problem: one of the Senator’s biggest selling points is that his proposal is best because Labor would never include so many protections for those who seek to discriminate should their own bill get up.

That, he hopes, will be the impetus to get politicians on his side to vote for the bill.

It would also serve as a way of getting the issue on the agenda, he explains, and no doubt believes this act of barnacle clearing would give a much-needed boost in the polls to his struggling government.

Not out of a great desire to do good in this country, nor an ambition to leave a lasting impact on the lives of tens of thousands of Australians, but because it may be their last chance to save their jobs come election time.

If that’s not an offensive suggestion of how little the very real lives of very real people mean to this Coalition Government, the constant comments of MPs – not least of which, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce – that legalising same sex marriage is not of importance, and that no one really cares ‘outside of Oxford Street.’

Still, at the very least it would prove an opportunity for Turnbull to tell his Party just how important this change really is, and why it is he believes so deeply in seeing the recognition of LGBTI people and their relationships right across the country.

Except, if his statements about being an ‘Elizabethan and a republican’ are anything to go by, he won’t.

 

Preditction: The PM will emerge victoriously, telling his voting public that it is simply impossible for his government – allegedly made up of adults who can make their own decisions – to vote on a marriage equality bill until we all check our letterboxes.

 

The fact that he is set to ‘moderate’ the meeting while Attorney General George Brandis champions the case for a free vote in Parliament should be more than enough indication of just how little the PM cares about anything other than his political survival.

So, the emergency meeting will crawl along just as all Turnbull run motions: with a whole lot of flash, and very little substance.

The PM will emerge victoriously, telling his voting public that it is simply impossible for his government – allegedly made up of adults who can make their own decisions – to vote on a marriage equality bill until we all check our letterboxes, and at least $100 million has been happily pissed away.

By the time the Electoral Commission starts counting an unrepresentative mess of responses, Turnbull has washed his hands clean of the issue, and the blood of young LGBTI Australians in the process.

Should the impossible happen, and he gives the go ahead to an actual free vote in parliament, we should not believe that at long last he has stood up for what he believes in.

We may well see marriage equality in Australia, and it may be as soon as within the next few weeks. But we should not be grateful.

We can cheer for our LGBTI brothers and sisters finally achieving the rights they deserve, but it’s hard to be happy when you know the change has come by force, not by desire.

The marriage equality this Coalition government will bring is not equality for the sake of equality, it is equality for the sake of power.

It’s hard to see that as equality at all.

 

 

Gordon Smith

Journalist by day, cunning linguist by night. A passion for politics, hypnotically involved in human rights. An Australian born with a Japanese tongue, hoping to hold the big wigs in government to account.

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